Prologue: ZoeA Chapter by Anonymous Me
Zoe traveling inside of her own mind
Zoe would’ve expected the walls of this place to be a bloody, carnation, pink"mushy to the touch with hideous curls and folds"the way the inside of a brain should be. But instead, she found them to be a soft, pink, fabric with brown embroidered butterflies. It was her baby blanket, the one thing that had been present throughout her entire life. I surrounded her. It was beneath her feet. Above her head. On either side. Behind her. In front of her. In some places it was stretched taunt revealing doors with silver knobs lined up like toy soldiers. She wrapped her curious fingers around the closest doorknob and nudged it open just enough for her to slip inside.
She was instantly hit by the sheer noise that rushed into her ears and exploded inside of her head. Around her were people. Far too many to count, and very few that she recognized. For some, their edges were blurred, their faces blending out into the air and their feet flowing imperceptibly into the ground. Some didn’t have faces at all, but there was still something so distinct that it had etched its imprint into Zoe’s mind forever, frozen in time.
A burned, deteriorating hand.
A lobe-less ear.
Some were just clothing: A floating pair of crossed rainbow suspenders. An expensive pair of jeans.
They roamed throughout the room repeating one-sided dialogues with limited vocabulary. Some laughed. Others would cry. But any emotions were quickly sucked back up when the conversation finished and then began again so that they could pour them out as if it was the first time, and all their feelings were fresh and new.
On the wall opposite her, Zoe saw a long, blinking, sign. MINOR CHARACTERS, it read. These were the people that had had little, but some, effect on her life. The noise and unwelcome closeness sent pangs to her head just as she was swallowed by the crowd and slammed into a young man about her age. Before she could stop herself, Zoe blushed and opened her mouth to apologize. Just as the word was passing through her lips, the boy laughed heartily at nothing. Right then, she realized that he wouldn’t acknowledge anything she said because he couldn’t do or say anything she didn’t remember him saying or doing. He looked at her with practically blind eyes that flickered back and forth from a calm, olive, color to a startling sapphire. Back-Forth. Blue-Green.
And then she remembered passing by him as she walked into the grocery store while he walked out. He’d looked at her with those big round eyes, and she’d stared right back, hearing the clicking shuffle of the confused automatic doors that would try to close and then realize that she still hadn’t completely passed through. The boy made a full stop and turned to view the intense redheaded girl. He’d smiled brightly but she’d kept her face blank and defensive. He’d laughed at her armor, walked over and given her his number. She never called.
All over again, Zoe withdrew into herself and backed away from the boy, having had enough of this swarm of memories. She pushed her way through the crowd, uttering useless apologies and excuses. She landed in front of a wall, and scrambled to find the slippery silver doorknob, her hands inexplicably damp with swear.
She’d always said that there was no way of knowing what went on in her mind. Now, she could see the truth in her words.
Finally, she emerged. Gasping for air, she pressed her back up against the now closed door. She took a few steps down the lengthy hallway, cursing herself for being at all tempted by the closed doors. Against all common sense, she took a breath from the deepest depths of her lungs and opened the next door. She pushed it open, just a small crack at first, listening intently for any signs of chaos. Instead of chaos, she was lured into the room by a song that she hadn’t heard since she was six years old.
“’You’re my Honeybunch, Sugarplum
Pumpy-umpy-umpkin, You’re my Sweetie Pie
You’re my Cuppycake, Gumdrop
“You’re the apple of my eye,” she sang along impulsively. The room was silent save for the lullaby. On the wall facing her was a large wall-to-wall screen where her mother appeared leaning into the camera lens that Zoe assumed to be her own eyesight. She heard the musical clanging of her mother’s silver bangles and touched her cheek when she felt the scrape of her mother’s wiry auburn curls against her face and the warmth of her mother’s lips on her forehead. It was as if she was four or five again, back in that bed feeling her mothers hands as they tucked the plaid blankets between her body and the mattress and bid her goodnight.
Her mother’s face faded out of the screen and into another memory, this one quick and uneventful. On the screen she saw a round, plump, hand that could only belong to a small child and the small mole left of center on the back of the child’s cream-colored hand, it was her own. She felt the coolness of the guardrail on the airport conveyor. Zoe jumped when she heard her own childish laugh.
“Where had that girl gone?” She’d only thought the words, but she heard them spoken aloud from an intercom above.
She turned away from the screen to face a wall of bookshelves. Zoe ran her index finger over the thick spines. She pulled out one, heaving it into her arms and plopping cross-legged onto the floor. Positioning the weighty book on her lap and opened to the title page. YEAR ONE-MONTH SEVEN, it read. She turned the page to find that it was in the style of a photo album, only much more detailed than any of the memorabilia that her mother kept in their living room. She traced an imager of her younger self holding onto the edge of a glass coffee table and was surprised as it came to life. Zoe watched herself fall to her bottom in frustration and determination as she reached out to grasp the glass table again, pulling herself back up. She watched as the one-year-old version of her took small, Frankenstein-like steps around the room. She heard the distinct sound of grandfather’s husky laugh and smiled inside.
Zoe skimmed the rest of the album and then stood to put it back in the gaping hole between months six and eight of year one. She could tell that this was not a library that was used often. Not a single book was missing. There were no forgotten slips of paper that had been commissioned as bookmarks. No sauce drippings. Or wrinkled dog-eared paged. She walked the length of the bookshelf counting each spine, pulling out one every so often. There were two hundred and forty-one volumes in all, including all nine months of her life in her mother’s womb. In those videos, she heard voices that were washed out and far away, as if she were underwater.
She had once read that everything that ever happens to someone is permanently engraved in his or her mind. It’s just a matter of recalling those events that make it seem as though they’ve been forgotten. When reading this, she’d laughed. Her standard reaction to any idea without a concrete basis. Like evolution and creation. And aliens. And flying pigs. They were all theories to her. The author had not had a sudden flood of memories that he’d forgotten. No one had performed and autopsy and opened a chamber and a found a catalog of that person’s most concealed memories. Now, she realized, that the author was more correct than he’d ever imagined, or ever could’ve known.
Zoe sat down on the plush blanket floor with one album from every year of her life stacked in a semi-circle around her. She rode the roller coaster of her life in clips, jumping from year to year, watching herself grow. She saw her hairstyle grow from strawberry blonde curls that congregated in a soft halo around her head to wild red pigtails. She chuckled softly as she watched herself in her early years, asking questions with the kind of innocence that only a toddler can achieve. Paired with the tiny hand gestures, the constant need to give and be accepted, and the frustration when that need was not understood, Zoe fell in love with her younger self.
Back then her smile was wide and frequent. Time and again, her lips would spread out into a grin that wrinkle her eyes and push her ears back with its dimples. She swallowed back tears as she watched her lips slide back into their solemn position over the next twelve years. By the time she was fifteen, that smile was almost nonexistent. At times it emerged with full force, slyly and tampered down to a mere shadow of what it had been. But the feeling was all there. It was just as powerful and striking as it had always been. Her younger self had been shrunken down and pocketed in the corner of her new smile"one that barely reached from the right side of her mouth to the left. But it was still there. It arrived with a new softness to it and a sense of serenity that reached her eyes, toning down the harsh green of her irises. It didn’t push her ears back with its width. Instead, it enveloped her entire being with an understated grace.
When she finished, she rose and pressed the backs of her hands to her damp eyes. She picked up each book one by one and placed them carefully back on the shelves. She ran her finger across the row of spines one more time before straightening her clothes and walking out of the room. On her face, she wore that faint, shy, smile. Quietly, she closed the door behind her so as not to disturb the fragile memories inside.
She meandered in the hallway for a moment, allowing her eyes to latch itself onto the door at the end of the hallway. It oozed and aura of solitude and isolation and tantalizing importance. She felt the slick metal of the knob in the palm of her hand and allowed her hand to linger for a moment as she pressed a weary ear to the door. Through the wood and fuzzy cotton, she heard muffled"yet, unmistakable"voices. She ran her fingers over the surface of the door in disbelief. Wide-eyed, she turned the knob and stepped inside.
She ran past her closest friends, her mother, and her siblings and leapt into her father’s arms, immediately remembering the words he’d said to her just before he died:
“Zee, no one’s dead so long as theirs someone around to remember them. So remember me, Sweetheart. And remember me well.”
She remembered promising him that she would. Now, she saw that she had held up her end of the bargain. In her mind, he had died, but was not dead. He was healthy again, alive in every sense and strong enough to spin her around in his arms. He was awake and aware. The tired eyes were gone, replaced with the playful ones she’d mourned before he was even truly deceased.
He was wearing “The Shirt”. The one he’d insisted everywhere. To every Hollander Family Reunion. Every backyard barbecue. Ever company picnic. It didn’t matter that it was visibly worn and torn and stained. It was the shirt, she’d viewed with such passionate hatred and embarrassment that it had melted itself down into a seething caldron of condoning admiration. It was the shirt her mother had tried to throw away a thousand times, but still couldn’t help smiling at whenever she saw her husband in it. It was the shirt she had pressed to her nose after he’d died, if only to feel like he was near. The only thing different in the shirt of her imagination was that it still smelled so strongly of him.
“Oh, come on. You have to share her, Greg,” her mother said, shaking her head. The curls in her auburn hair rippled beautiful down her back and she extended her arms to her daughter in an invitation that gave no room for possible refusal. Zoe reluctantly let go of her father and went into her mother’s arms. Even inside the butterfly embroidered walls of her mind, where things deemed impossible morphed into miniscule tasks, Zoe had to keep herself from pulling away and willed her muscles to relax. After her father’s death, Zoe had distanced herself from everyone, including her mother. Apparently, some things nothing could change. Zoe’s mother still reached out to her, and Zoe still made it a point to stay out of arms reach.
After a flurry of mostly warm greetings, they sat at a long conference table. There were nine chairs in all and Zoe stood off to the side, watching as everyone he was close to coexisted in a comical fashion that only they could fabricate. Everyone she’d expect to be there was present. Sitting around that table, smiling at her, were her parents, her best friends"Rae and Kaliegh"her non-biological aunt and uncle, Denise and Joseph. Her brother, Travis and her older sister, Stella. There was one chair left and Zoe mindlessly took it for herself.
Zoe could easily see the difference between the people in this room and the people in the Minor Characters room. The minor characters had had so little an effect on her life that she couldn’t imagine them doing anything she hadn’t seen them doing. In her mind they were not capable of acknowledging her or holding a conversation in this setting. But the people she found herself surrounded by at that moment were people she knew so well. They had played such an important role in her life that she could picture them doing anything. She could feel their touch, visualize their facial expressions, their hand gestures. She could hear any amount of words colored with the sound of their voices. They were so clear that they became real.
She reached out and grabbed her father’s large hand, trying to hold it inside of both of her tiny ones. The feeling was foreign to her and the action was awkward. Even when Gregory had been alive, she had never reached out to her father in this way. She’d never reached out to anyone in this way. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the jealous glance of her mother dart across their hands that lay folded uncomfortably on the table.
When she let go, Gregory smiled knowingly at her. Physical closeness was not"and never would be"her specialty. Though she loved and desperately wanted to feel her father’s touch, they both knew that it was next to impossible. She just wasn’t emotionally capable of it. As long as she could remember she had been the child who was near, but never touching. Her body was always angled away from an already arms length embrace that people were considered privileged to receive. There was always that triangle of empty space between Zoe and her mother. Her touches were quick and cherished by those she graced them with. It wasn’t that she wouldn’t give more. It was that she couldn’t.
“So what do you guys do here?” Zoe asked, trying to cover up her insecure actions with a trembling question that showed its purpose too easily.
“We plan,” her father answered, mildly. Zoe could see on her father’s face that he was not disappointed, but proud. That small gesture, however fleeting, had been a great feat in itself.
“Well, you plan, really,” her mother elaborated, “We just advise. We all play such important roles in your life, and you have subconsciously chosen us as the important figures. Out there you live things by what we taught you, so we have more of a say in your conscience.” Her mother gestured to two oval-like windows that Zoe had not noticed. They were pinched at the edges and pinkish shades hung down. Judging by the blue, crack-like veins that decorated the drapes, the windows were her eyes, and the shades her closed eyelids. She got the feeling that she’d left the brain and ended up somewhere inside of her own eyeballs.
“He’ll be here soon. Don’t worry,” Denise said, from her left, leaning over to pat her hand. Zoe stared nervously at the gesture until Denise readjusted herself in her seat and folded her hands. She couldn’t think of anyone else that she’d want in that meeting, helping her make decisions every day. She looked suspiciously at Denise, whose eyes twinkled above a smile.
“Everything is a conspiracy to you,” she commented.
“It’s true,” her mother added with annoying enthusiasm. “You’ve severed so many ties and abandoned so many friendships. You don’t trust as easily as you used to, so we’ve lost some valuable input from our counsel. I’ve even been impeached a couple of times.” That fact did not surprise Zoe at all, but she felt that it was probably safer for the both of them if she didn’t voice that point.
Rae and Kaliegh laughed, launching into some embarrassing story about Zoe’s inability to trust. As she tuned them out, she heard the way they fed off of each other’s energy as they captivated the group’s attention with their dialogue. Zoe’s own attention fixated itself on the wall facing her. She leaned forward in her chair to get a closer look.
It was a wall-to-wall corkboard. Color-coded pins logged her every move and decision. Strings connected each pin to another and her life lay sprawled across the board with the complexity and look of a spider web. Faint pencil lines indicated possible decision changes and pending choices. At first her skin crawled to think that her life was so carefully watched and categorized. Then, she realized that she was the one performing the observations.
During this escapade from reality and into here past, Zoe went completely numb to her surroundings. She nearly jumped out of her skin when a sturdy hand found rest on her shoulder. She turned, wild eyed, ready to pounce on whoever dared disturb her. Her resolve diminished when she laid eyes on her intruder. Her stomach lurched. Her head spun. The stable ground shook beneath her feet. Now she was confused. Not only by his presence, but also by her reaction.
“Why are you here?” she finally said. Instantly, she regretted her choice of words. No hello. No how are you. Just immediate accusation and inquisition. She had treated him as if he were the intruder instead of herself. She looked down at her toes, squeamishly. They had once been best friends. Partners in crime. Now, she was ashamed to admit that she could hardly begin a conversation with him. She heard the stifled giggles of Rae and Kaliegh. She couldn’t blame their laughter. Even she had heard the unmistakable tremor in her voice.
“Good to see you, too, Zee,” he replied. His words were cool and calm, yet somehow harsh and startling. Like a still river on a summer day. Though the water is refreshing, the lack of a current is not something that can go ignored. She pursed her lips and raised an eyebrow, squinting menacingly.
“Conspiracy,” Rae whispered to Kaliegh. Zoe whipped her head around and glared. Rae hid her features behind her long hair. She giggled behind the tarnished gold curtain it provided. Zoe then zeroed in on Kaliegh and her tactics of intimidation were quickly returned. A staring match was formed and the two were soon shooting darts at each other. Green, heart piercing, stabs from Zoe. Obsidian black death blows from Kaliegh. This only served to intensify Rae’s laughter, who was still peaking through the slit strands of her hair.
Zoe forced herself to relax, folding her hands on the table’s surface in front of her and making it a point not to look at David. She heard him sigh and trudge off to find another chair. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched him. She waited until she thought he was out of earshot to release a sigh of her own that she hadn’t even known she was holding in. Judging by the way he stopped with his hand poised in midair with a mischievous smile on his face, he’d heard that sigh. She saw his shoulders with an imperceptible chuckle that only Zoe could’ve noticed. He looked up and locked eyes with her for one painful moment.
He knew that he was being watched. Zoe couldn’t say that she was surprised, nor that she really cared.
He sat in a place that would make him vulnerable to her gaze on purpose. He hadn’t changed since they’d seen each other last. It’s been at a graduation party the summer past. Her heartbeat grew irregular at the sight of him and that all knowing, ever-present smirk of his. She’d told herself a thousand times that it had only been the combination of the slow cooling night and the twinkling decorations. Still, she’d kept her distance as best she could that night. Just incase. Now, her resolve was weakened all over again. Her eyes were glued to him. The lines of his neck. The chiseled angles of his face.
David leaned forward resting his elbows on his knees and folding his hands loosely in front of them. The sight of his hands unnerved her and her breathing sped up just the slightest bit more. She stared at him, feeling the hot fury on her face and he stared back at her, paralyzing her with his gaze and extinguishing that fire. His hazel eyes flickered with triumphant buoyancy. He knew what he was doing to her. He reveled in the victory of it all. He demanded her attention and she handed it over, completely incapable of resistance.
“So,” Zoe slowly began again, “why is it here?” For a moment everyone at the table exchanged glances. Constricted laughter lit up their eyes. Stella held back nothing, laughing openly at her younger sister’s obliviousness. Like a domino effect, the others erupted in laughter as well.
She looked across the table at David for clues, but he was contented to continue staring silently at her. Frustrated, she wrenched herself out of the hold that his eyes had on her. The freedom lasted only a moment and her eyes were drawn back to him. Her skin vibrated under the heat of his gaze and she silently begged for an explanation. She knew he knew what she wanted. He would not be David without the uncanny ability to read her mind. But he would also not be David without his procrastination methods. He had no plans of giving Zoe an answer anytime soon. He had a habit of letting things play out to maximum dramatics. He’d drop a boulder into a river to achieve the biggest splash in history. But afterwards, he’d personally dry off the angered and soggy bystanders and put the displaced fish back into their rightful homes.
It was one of the many things that she had loved about their friendship. It had always been interesting and active, but with minimal after effects. There was rarely more than a strong memory in the minds of all those involved to attest to the fact that it had even occurred.
Across the table, Zoe shook her head at him and smiled, knowing the rules of this game all too well. He smiled back"an award for her participation. Pathetically, she smiled back gratefully. She looked down into her lap as if something precious and light had floated a long ways just to land on her.
“Zee,” Stella began. Her chest heaved, exhausted from laughter. “He’s the only one who hasn’t been impeached. Ever. I can’t figure out how he does it. Even when he’s on your bad side, he’s on your good side.”
“It makes no sense,” Travis marveled quietly. Everyone around the table nodded and grunted their agreements.
“You think about him more than you know,” Denise added.
“It’s true,” her mother irritatingly put in. David sat back and rolled his eyes nonchalantly, as if he’d heard all this before.
“No, it’s not,” Zoe argued. It was a poor rebuttal at best. There was no evidence. No supporting clause. No eloquent wording. There was nothing more than a shaky statement that she hoped and prayed would be accepted at the new, revised, truth. She watched David smugly mouth the words as they left her lips and sent a scowl over to him. He returned it with a content smirk. His gaze was still and steady on her. Unwavering. It was the look that Zoe had learned to dread as a little girl and she felt childish. Small. Defenseless. But still determined.
They had to be wrong. She just didn’t know how to prove it.
Finally, she broke the stare that she’d shared with David so that she could concentrate on convincing them of how completely preposterous all this was. Nothing came to mind. She looked back down at her lap, ashamed. Wanting to hide and knowing that she couldn’t. A song popped into her head, it’s lyrics synonymous with his name. To her embarrassment, and to David’s satisfaction, the song was amplified on the overhead speakers.
“’Well, all I really wanna do is love you
A kind much closer than friends use,
But I still can’t say it,
After all we’ve been through.
And all I really want from you is to feel me
As the feeling inside keeps building,
And I will find a way to you if it kills me…’”
She’d forgotten that in her mind"the very place where her thoughts were brainstormed, handpicked, designed, and produced"nothing was private. She was reminded once again that you could never hide from yourself.
“My theme song,” David remarked with the same cool tone he’d somehow managed to maintain since the conversation had begun.
She shuttered to think that she could have been so wrong about herself. She’d convinced herself that she didn’t care about him. But here she was silently begging him to speak again because she was addicted to the sound of his voice. She wondered at how she had gone so long without hearing it. It was like biting into something supposed to be salty and finding to be quite the opposite. It was shocking and, like all things unexpected, was impulsively rejected. But the power of its overwhelming sweetness could not be resisted for long. Instead, she found herself already salivating over the prospect of another taste but too proud to ask for a second bite.
She was like a beggar woman who’d fallen from high esteem. Proud and dignified, eve as her stomach growled beneath the cloak of her tattered clothing. Food, or anything else, had to offered or it would be taken.
“You love me,” he said, throwing her another line. He was teasing her with short sentences. He said the words so simply, as if it was as common and well known a fact as the earth being round or the sun being hot. To make matters worse, he tickled the words less than futile in this situation. She closed it and swallowed, squirming as she watched him bask in the glory of the confirmation he’d just handed him. He knew she wanted more. A monologue would do. Something long and laced with emotion was what she longed for"but he wouldn’t give it to her just yet.
“And” he paused, pointing to the chart of her decisions on the wall. The lines, she now noticed, all led to one ultimate purposed:
“You are going to marry me one day.”
This he said simply, too. So simply that Zoe found herself believing him.
© 2012 Anonymous Me
Abouti have a lot of things to write here but none that I feel that you really need to know. I guess i can tell you that i love to write. It's the only time when i am truly forthcoming. I've been told that.. more..